Feds prepared to order bus drivers back to work
Federal Labour Minister Rona Ambrose says she is prepared to introduce back-to-work legislation that would put an end to a public transit strike that's lasted 50 days in the nation's capital.
"I think it is clear to me that this strike has gone on too long. I have heard stories that have not only shown incredible hardship from people in the Ottawa area, but this strike is clearly taking a toll on the most vulnerable," Ambrose told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
Ambrose said she is reversing a previous decision not to intervene in the public transit strike because both sides are too far apart and talks are not moving any closer to a resolution.
"We have tried for two weeks now working through mediation and the offer of arbitration with no real response from the parties in terms of a compromise or a willingness to reach an agreement," she said.
The federal government will need co-operation from the opposition in order to get the legislation passed. Ambrose said she's already approached the Liberal Party to ask for their support.
But it was unclear late Wednesday whether they would support the measure, which could take several days to pass. The Bloc Quebecois and the NDP have said they will not support the legislation.
An emergency debate on the issue is set to take place Thursday following a motion introduced by Liberal MP Mauril B�langer, who represents Ottawa-Vanier.
Earlier in the day, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty pressed the federal government to end the labour dispute, which comes under Ottawa's jurisdiction because the bus routes cross the Ontario-Quebec border, into Gatineau, Que.
"It's dramatically affecting our economy at a time when we can't afford to have these kind of things get in the way," said McGuinty, who represents an Ottawa riding in the Ontario legislature.
Ottawa residents thrilled by the news
Meanwhile, Ottawa residents who have been stranded for seven weeks without public transit say they're thrilled the strike could soon come to an end.
"It's about time, it really is about time. It's affecting a lot of people. My husband has been biking to work and it has been hard on him so I hope they get back soon," said one Ottawa resident.
"That would be awesome, I've been stuck in my apartment," added another resident.
Essential service bid fails
The developments on Parliament Hill come after the Canada Industrial Relations Board ruled Wednesday morning that OC Transpo is not an essential service and doesn't pose a direct threat to the public's health and safety.
The latest talks between the city and the Amalgamated Transit Union came to a halt on Tuesday when the union rejected the city's most recent contract offer, saying the city failed to make any significant changes on outstanding issues.
Even though back-to-work legislation is in the works, Ambrose said it is still possible for both sides to return to the negotiating table and reach an agreement before the legislation is passed. If the legislation goes through, it will still take at least one week to get hundreds of buses serviced and back on the roads.
By 6 p.m. Wednesday, neither the mayor nor the union had been officially told about the government's intention to force bus drivers back to work.
More than 2,300 bus drivers, dispatchers and mechanics walked off the job Dec. 10. They had been working without a contract since April.
With a report from CTV's Graham Richardson, CTV Ottawa's Vanessa Lee and files from The Canadian Press